Q&A: UT lecturer discusses The Black List, screenwriting

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Photo Credit: Andres Echeverria | Daily Texan Staff

Radio-television-film students interested in screenwriting will undoubtedly search for ways to get their work recognized. The Black List, an online service where screenwriters can submit scripts and get feedback from industry professionals, may be just what they’re looking for. Screenwriting lecturer Tom Willet spoke with The Daily Texan about The Black List and other ways radio-television-film students can get their scripts noticed.

Daily Texan: Some screenwriters submit screenplays to The Black List in hopes that they get noticed. Have you ever interacted with The Black List before?

Tom Willet: I’ve never submitted anything. I heard about it a while ago before it was a script database. It started simply as a list of the top ten unproduced scripts in Hollywood. That list became popular — it was a way for those 10 or so writers to get some notice. I don’t know when, but recently it turned into this new website where you can submit scripts and get feedback.

DT: Do you see such a list as an essential tool for screenwriters?

TW: I don’t think it’s essential, necessarily. But, I heard stories that peoples’ scripts are being discovered. I do think it’s a new away to get your script recognized or to meet people to collaborate with.

DT: What are other methods that screenwriters can use to get their work noticed?

TW: The most effective [way to get noticed] for someone who doesn’t have connections in the industry is applying to contests. There are big ones like the Nichol Fellowship and Austin Film Festival screenwriting contest. Even if you make it to the semi-finals, people will read your script. Producers, managers and agents might contact you and want to know more. There are also a lot of writing fellowships. A lot of the networks sponsor fellowships now, and that’s a good way to break in.

DT: What is your advice for students trying to get their work noticed?

TW: Write a lot. I think a lot of students just want to finish one script and are impatient to get it out there. Really work on your story and make sure it’s in the shape you want it to be before you start showing people. There’s no clear path after that. It’s good to have multiple scripts too. Know why you want to tell the story, because when somebody does want to read your script you’ll have to talk to them about it. You might have to convince them that this is a worthwhile project to pursue. You’re also going to have to be willing to rewrite and revise.

DT: In your opinion, what are common qualities in scripts written by young writers that tend to get noticed?

TW: I’d say subject matter or a theme that people are talking about now — especially for young writers. People purchasing these scripts are older and rely on these young writers to let them know what’s current. These people are reading tons of scripts, so if a writer has a unique voice or perspective on the world, that really stands out. People reading scripts also want to see if you have a solid understanding of traditional three-act structure. 

DT: What are things students can do to improve scripts they hope to get noticed by The Black List or other producers?

TW: Forming writing groups. A big benefit of the screenwriting classes are the deadlines and the other readers. They provide reactions and feedback. If you’re serious about pursuing it, try finding other serious writers. The other thing is simply reading screenplays and seeing how professional writers’ work reads. My last advice is to also have a life. Young writers forget to have outside interests, and their material doesn’t always feel real.